Bonnie and Clyde - we were in love. Yes they were reprehensible, though sometimes hilarious. Yes, they were 70-years-dead and justly so, enduring as their story has been. And yes, I was just an ambitious composer in New York who had yet to get a break.
But something substantial happened when Will Pomerantz, Doug Ritchie and I wrote our show for a lean, affordable cast of two. We wanted to make our Bonnie and Clyde a dynamic performance piece for two talents. More important, we wanted to make it unique; the only question was how. People had been exhausting every angle on those two since before they died.
By 2000 we thought we had an answer. We would take everything famous about Bonnie and Clyde - their mythical Robin Hood image - and put it in the background. Instead, we'd serve up two comical and tragic lovers. Our Bonnie and Clyde wouldn't be odd and amazing; they'd be amusingly (frighteningly?) normal (well, except for transcending their station in life by singing kick-butt songs).
The reviews for our 2003 production in Seattle would applaud our "excellence at creating a duet that's essentially a domestic squabble, even if it's between serial killers... well worth seeing." But actually becoming worthy of that review would take real work.
For one thing, we soon realized we couldn't just ignore B&C's iconic image. People expected fun and from those two, so we loaded our script with as much fun as we could (not forgetting our vision). They also expected some historical gravity, so we made an effort to deliver.
In New York, long before this, our script crossed the desk of Allan Buchman at 45 Bleecker (The Exonerated), who was impressed enough to pair us with the esteemed off-Broadway director Will Pomerantz, who came on board as a co-librettist. A 2001 reading with Amanda Serkasevich (Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Joe Machota (Mamma Mia) boded well for an upcoming production in Chicago.
Then Chicago happened, and trouble struck. A well-meaning, talented company fell flat on its face bringing our show to life. While we were stuck in New York, the theatre got lost, added five gloomy characters, and changed some of the script. I can't blame them - we granted them that latitude - but the results were troubling.
When dramatists that skillful get lost, the script needs work.
So we fixed that script like nobody's business, and the ovation we got two years later at Village Theatre, the respected theatre in the Pacific Northwest, was a joyous moment. Still, there were real squeaky joints.
Then Chicago happened, and trouble struck. Despite the best efforts of a talented and well-intentioned company, our show did not fly onstage. When performers and directors at that skill level wind up in that position, ultimately the script needs work.
So we fixed that script like nobody's business, and the ovation we got two years later at Village Theatre, the respected theatre in the Pacific Northwest, was a joyous moment. Still, there were squeaky joints.
What we needed was to get our show's focus right, once and for all. Almost like magic, a 2004 reading at Ardelle Striker's Blue Heron Theatre in New York City did the trick. We chiseled and polished that script till finally it flew high and played smoothly. Today our book is stronger than ever - a miniature show that pleases audiences and dramaturges alike.
As I write this, we're looking forward to a production by the exciting Northern Light Theatre Company in Edmonton, AB. Our piece is also available for licensing by any theatre that wants this "intelligently conceived, carefully written, infectious little musical," as Playwright's Horizons in New York City called it. There will always be other Bonnie and Clyde's (as we would soon learn from other versions popping up), and we may well keep working at ours. But, I'm happy to report, this little musical (our love?) is here to stay.
-Andrew Philip Herron